PM Appoints Suicide Prevention Minister

Peter Russell

October 10, 2018

The Prime Minister Theresa May has signalled a renewed determination to confront the UK's suicide rate by appointing a health minister to take charge of reducing the number of suicides, and overcome the stigma that stops people seeking help.

She also announced support to improve mental health in children and young people.

Around 4500 people take their own lives in England each year, and suicide remains the leading cause of death among men under 45.
 

'Injustice' of Mental Health Issues

Speaking in Downing Street to coincide with World Mental Health Day, Mrs May said: "There are few greater examples than the injustices facing those with mental health conditions. But together we can change that.
 
"We can end the stigma that has forced too many to suffer in silence. We can prevent the tragedy of suicide taking too many lives. And we can give the mental wellbeing of our children the priority it so profoundly deserves."

Earlier, she confirmed that Jackie Doyle-Price, who already held the Government's mental health brief, had been appointed the country's first minister for suicide prevention.

Her role will be to create a taskforce that will work with experts in suicide and self-harm prevention, charities, clinicians, local and national government, and those personally affected by suicide, to reduce the number of people taking their own lives.
 
She will also be responsible for ensuring that every local area has an effective suicide prevention plan in place, and how technology can be used to identify people most at risk.
 

Mental Health in Young People

The Government said it recognised that half of all mental illness began when young people were aged 14. Its previous announcement earlier this year to improve mental health and wellbeing of children in England and Wales was criticised for leaving 'gaping holes' in its scope.

Today, Mrs May announced that:

  • New mental health support teams, who will work with schools in England to ensure young people with mental issues get the support they need, will start training in January 2019 and will begin work next year

  • The first annual 'State of the Nation' report on young people's mental well-being, as well as their physical health and academic attainment, will be published next October

  • Resources will be made available for schools to measure their students' health, including their mental wellbeing

On her appointment, Jackie Doyle-Price said: "I understand how tragic, devastating and long-lasting the effect of suicide can be on families and communities.

"In my time as health minister I have met many people who have been bereaved by suicide and their stories of pain and loss will stay with me for a long time.

"It's these people who need to be at the heart of what we do and I welcome this opportunity to work closely with them, as well as experts, to oversee a cross-government suicide prevention plan, making sure their views are always heard."

Help and Treatment for People at Risk

"We know that one of the leading causes of suicide is that people don't access help and treatment," Dr Adrian James, registrar at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, told Medscape News UK. "The facts and figures are very well established. The overall figure is that two-thirds of people don't access treatments at all."

He said the College welcomed any initiative to reduce the stigma of mental health and suicidal tendencies. "People would rather take their own life than admit to what they're struggling with," he said.

Dr James said it was important that any taskforce recognised that suicide prevention was not just a health problem but was linked to issues such as unemployment, education, poverty, and housing.

The Royal College of Paediatrics (RCP) said more needed to be done for children who already have mental and emotional health problems. Dr Max Davie from the RCP said: "These children and young people should have timely and appropriate access to evidence based services and treatment, with these services considered an integral part of children's healthcare in both acute and community settings."

Among today's other announcements was a government pledge of up to £1.8 million to help fund The Samaritans' helpline and ensure it remains free for the next 4 years.

This week the Health Secretary Matt Hancock is hosting the first ever Global Ministerial Mental Health Summit in London. In a speech, he said the Government would put a further £30 million into global mental health research through the UK's National Institute of Health Research.

 

Official portrait of Jackie Doyle-Price released by UK Parliament website under an Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0) licence.

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